BKO: Bangkok Knockout (Thailand, 2011)

BKO: Bangkok Knockout, the title of Panna Rittikrai and Morakot Kaewthanee’s kinetic B-movie action spectacular, is an unabashedly crude and blunt statement of purpose, much like the film itself.  And what is that purpose? To pummel you into submission and keep you continually in awe at the stable of martial artists Rittikrai has put together, blowing past the paper-thin narrative and characterization, the broad, cartoonish humor, and the generally unsubtle nature of the proceedings.  And at that it succeeds swimmingly.  Rittikrai, fight choreographer and sometime director, has mentored such Thai action stars as Tony Jaa (the Ong Bak films) and Jeeja Yanin (Chocolate, Raging Phoenix).  Bangkok Knockout functions as a virtual audition for film audiences, or, more pertinently, a battle between these fighters as to who can be a worthy successor to, or competitor with, those two established stars.

The film rather impatiently breezes through its setup.  A bunch of fighters are lured into a competition with a tantalizing prize dangled in front of them: the promise to be stunt performers in Hollywood.  Instead, after a huge banquet with drugged food, they find themselves in a cavernous warehouse, the unwitting action figures in a human video game hosted by an arrogant, cigar-chomping American (played by an actor with the amusing name Speedy Arnold), and their arranged battles bet upon by farang high-rollers.  There’s a bit of a romantic love triangle between three of the fighters, and a similarly underdeveloped revenge story between two other fighters, but who gives a damn about any of that?  The film certainly doesn’t; the bulk of its running time is devoted to the ever more elaborately choreographed, outrageous, and dangerous fights – this is certainly a production that knows what its audience wants and delivers exactly that, with direct, uncomplicated brio.  Bangkok Knockout affords us such sensational sequences as: a metal-masked, ax-wielding man on fire; two men smashing each other through an indoor waterfall; two others swinging on a dizzyingly high beam over a highway; and most audaciously, the climactic fight that occurs underneath the chassis of a moving truck. Muay Thai, capoeira, kung fu, tai chi, and any number of other fighting styles – this film has it all, and more.  Critical evaluation is almost beside the point for a film like this; the coolness of the fight scenes is both means and end.  If pure martial-arts demonstration is your thing, unencumbered by such niceties as plot, complex characterization, and actual acting, then Bangkok Knockout is just what the cinema doctor ordered.

BKO: Bangkok Knockout screens at the Walter Reade Theater on July 2 at 12:15pm and July 9 at midnight. For tickets, visit the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s website.

(Cross-posted on The Bourne Cinema Conspiracy)

Christopher Bourne is a film critic, editor, and blogger based in New York City. His articles have appeared in Senses of Cinema, The Brooklyn Rail, Meniscus Magazine, Twitch, and other publications. He blogs on film at The Bourne Cinema Conspiracy.